It’s high summer, with the longest day of the year fast approaching, but today we’re involved in a crunch match in the National League. Our match against Clare today at Cusack Park (throw-in 1.45pm) is a Division Two semi-final but the main prize on offer today isn’t a slot in the decider – there won’t be one – as instead it’s a place in Division One of the League for next year.
That’s a big prize, the destination of which will impact the winners of it, not just this year but next year and perhaps the one after too. For both of today’s teams, it’s definitely a prize worth seizing today.
We head for Ennis as strong favourites. So we should – Division One is our normal habitat, the place where we expect to be, and, having contested three All-Ireland finals in the last six years, we know plenty about competing at the highest level in the game. Of course we’re fancied to win today.
But being favoured to win and actually going out and doing it are two very different things. Clare have home advantage for this one-off, winner-takes-all tie and Colm Collins has fashioned a team that consistently punches above its weight and that’s very hard to beat. They’ll be hard to beat today.
It’ll be difficult for us today for another reason. We all saw how Kerry laid waste to Tyrone yesterday evening and in two weeks from now Clare have to face them in the Munster SFC quarter-final. Kerry will win that game – Kerry know that, Clare know that, the whole world knows that.
This means that Clare’s inter-county year is set to end in exactly a fortnight from now. If they already know and accept that Kerry will be a bridge too far for them this summer, this means they have to be looking at today’s game as the one from which they’ll have a better chance to get tangible reward.
That makes the Banner lads very dangerous from our perspective. They’ll treat this game like a full-throated Championship encounter and will lay into us in this kind of mindset. If we don’t reciprocate in kind we could be in for a rude awakening in Ennis this afternoon.
Our alarming tendency to cough up soft goals is an obvious worry. Clare have yet to concede a goal in this year’s League, whereas we’ve conceded five of them in the three games we’ve played. If Clare break through for a goal or two today – and we all know what a danger this is – we’re going to find it hard to get the result we need.
So, we head into this one with a few worrisome things to ponder. But, make no mistake, they’ll be worried too. They know all about the likes of Oisín Mullin, Lee Keegan, Paddy Durcan, Mattie Ruane, Diarmuid O’Connor, Tommy Conroy and Cillian O’Connor and they’ll be fully aware about the damage all these lads can do.
They’ll also know we’ve got Aidan O’Shea in reserve if needs be. And they’ll know that there are other lads in our ranks, lads who might not be household names just yet but who could inflict pain on them too.
Ultimately, when you look at our match-day panel and, in particular, the significant big match experience that still resides in our ranks, you’d have to think we have the necessary talent and strength in depth to do the business today. I expect we will but I also expect that it’ll be far from easy and that, if we come into the game undercooked to any degree, we’ll find ourselves in the toughest of battles.
Last year we lost our Division One status because we weren’t able, when push came to shove, to win games when we really needed to. Today we get the chance to put that right and to win back our top tier status. But only if we win a game we need to win.
This one’s important. This is a game we need to win, one we’re well capable of winning. Let’s go win it. Up Mayo.